Continuing to Fight for Marriage

shutterstock_4341931 (1)Responses from right-minded marriage proponents to the Supreme Court’s June 26 decisions in two cases involving the (re)definition of marriage seemed to come in three waves.

The immediate reaction, influenced no doubt by a partisan press, was that the friends of marriage had suffered a severe, and perhaps lethal, blow when the Court first struck down the key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and then denied standing to those challenging the judicial overturn of California’s “Proposition 8,” an initiative that restored the classic meaning of marriage to California law.

The next, more considered reaction went something like this: “Hold on here. The Supreme Court did not declare a constitutional ‘right’ to ‘gay marriage.’ This is not another Roe v. Wade, and the Court did not ‘nationalize’ the marriage debate by peremptorily settling it, like it tried to do with abortion in 1973. The fight for marriage rightly understood, and for an understanding of what government simply cannot do, will go on in the states. Experience shows that the friends of marriage, civil society, and limited government can win a lot of those battles.”

The third reaction tempered the second: “Not so fast. The terms in which DOMA was struck down—defense of marriage rightly understood involves an irrational bias—make it much more difficult to fight this battle in state legislatures, because the rhetorical and moral high ground has been ceded to the proponents of ‘gay marriage.’” Moreover, the understanding of marriage in the DOMA decision—marriage is an expression of personal autonomy and lifestyle choice—offers ground on which successful, state-level ‘limitations’ of ‘marriage’ to heterosexual couples will be challenged at the federal level.”

Contradictory reactions? At first blush, perhaps. But upon further review, as they say in the NFL, all three reactions make sense.

The initial reaction—these decisions were bad defeats for marriage rightly understood—was correct, both in terms of the defense of marriage and a proper understanding of constitutional order. The DOMA and Prop 8 decisions were bizarre in their reasoning at some points, and notable for their lack of reasoning at others. The proponents of “gay marriage” and their media echo chamber knew what they were about when they popped the corks: they had won a major victory.

But it’s also true that it was not the Roe v. Wade-type victory they sought. The proponents of marriage and limited government rightly understood—indeed, the defenders of reality-based law and public policy—have not been denied the opportunity to continue the fight at the state level.

And yet, on the other, other hand, those of us who propose to do precisely that have been labeled bigots and enemies of civility by a majority of the United States Supreme Court. The Court has implicitly accepted the absurd and offensive mantra of President Obama’s second inaugural address—“from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall”—which identified the defenders of marriage rightly understood with those who manned the fire hoses, wielded the billy clubs, and unleashed the attack dogs against peaceful civil rights demonstrators in the Sixties. Our opponents have been given high-caliber rhetorical weapons to launch against us; we need not doubt that they will. And if some way isn’t found to counter that false analogy between racial bigotry and marriage rightly understood, we are not going to win many of state-level battles in this period when we’re permitted to conduct them.

So now what?

In the words of the “Red Tails,” the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, “we fight, we fight, we fight.” For we are not only fighting in defense of marriage rightly understood; we are fighting against what Benedict XVI often called the “dictatorship of relativism,” elements of which were ominously present in Justice Kennedy’s DOMA decision. Some of those battles will be won, and those expressions of popular will may further stay any temptation by the Supremes to settle this once and for all by federal diktat.

At the same time, and as I have suggested before, the Church must think through, even reconsider, its relationship to civil marriage.


This article was originally published at the Denver Catholic Register

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George Weigel


George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • colcarpenter

    Before the defenders of so called “Tradition Marriage” continue their fight they should first be honest about what it is they’re trying to achieve. Are they defending the idea of marriage as an indissoluble union between one man and one woman for the primary benefit of the children that are ordinarily born into such unions, or do they just want to stop the State from recognizing Gay relationships as marriage while being content with the modern practice of heterosexual divorce and remarriage?

    Unless the the former is their goal it might be difficult to convince an increasing number of people that the opposition to Gay marriage is anything but homophobic bigotry.

    Yes, the Church should remove herself from co-operating with the secular world’s practice of marriage, but that should have been done 40 years ago when remarriage after divorce became acceptable.

  • pnyikos

    The second half of your long question receives a resounding NO! answer. As for the first half, there are undoubtedly millions with such a well thought out position, but others are just concerned lest the concept of “marriage” come to mean something it did not mean from the dawn of history to the last tenth of the 20th century.

    The latter issue is brought into sharp focus in an article on the new law in England, in the last paragraph:

    “Gay couples may already obtain “civil partnerships”, conferring the same legal rights as marriage, but campaigners say the distinction gives the impression that society considers gay relationships inferior.”

    What these “campaigners” don’t realize is that the end result will be that “marriage” soon will not have any connotations different than what “civil partnerships” has today. Just look at the radical change in the connontations of the word “gay,” which has been co-opted to the point where the old meaning is rapidly becoming extinct.

  • pnyikos

    Your last paragraph is not well thought out. The Church is not against divorce *per se*, but only against remarriage during the life of the divorced spouse. The Church does not cooperate in remarriage, but it actually recommends civil divorce as a prelude to the initiation of annulment proceedings.

    If the annullment is not granted, the couple are always free to contract another civil marriage with each other, but they don’t need another one in the Church, which still considers them to be married.

  • colcarpenter

    @pnyikos, I’m sure many bishops will be surprised to hear that the Church is not against divorce *per se*.

    But at least you seem to concede that Catholics entering into the sacrament of matrimony is not the same as entering into a civilly recognized marriage, even though, as it now stands, both civil and Church law permit priests to confer both.

    However, given that for many decades civil authorities have allowed divorce and remarriage, and increasingly are recognizing Gay relationships as marriage, is it time for the Church to stop co-operating with Secular authorities in conferring civil marriage status as part of the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony?

    I say it is time to stop. Clearly, what secular authorities consider to be a marriage is not the same as what the Church is celebrating when she confers the sacrament of matrimony.

  • colcarpenter

    @pnyikos, Regarding the second half of my question, I’m sorry but I see little evidence to show that the majority of those people expressing opposition to Gay marriage were genuinely concerned with the state of marriage in general, or with children’s welfare. It really did seem that stopping gay relationships from being recognized as marriage was all that was important. If you have evidence to show otherwise you are free to present it.

    And while much time, effort and money was use to try and stop gay marriage, which will never account for more than three percent of “marriages”, nothing was being said about the massive destruction of families by heterosexual divorce and remarriage. And yet all of this protesting was supposedly done to defend so called Traditional marriage. Is divorce and remarriage now part of Tradition marriage, and so doesn’t need to be protested against? Moreover, regardless of whether or not Gay relationships are recognized as marriages or not, Gays (and heterosexuals too) are increasing creating children with the use of donor sperm/ova and surrogacy, almost without even a whimper of a protest.

    Yet what is worse, a couple of childless Gay men having their relationship recognized as marriage, or a couple of unmarried Gay men using a surrogate to create a baby for themselves?

  • pnyikos

    Your “sureness ” about what will surprise “many bishops” bespeaks a profound ignorance of traditional Catholicism. In particular, you are ignoring what I wrote about the recommendation by the Church to get a civil divorce even before formally initiating annullment proceedings.

    You also seem to be ignorant about the controversy over the way annullments have been so easy to get in the USA, some calling it the Church’s own form of divorce. Are you aware of the scathing book a former wife (in the civil sense, at least) of a Kennedy clan member wrote about her being subjected to an unfair annullment in the Catholic Church?

    That said, I take very seriously the thesis that the Church can and should divest itself of involvement with civil marriage, IF same-sex marriage is imposed on the United States. The reasons, some of which I listed, that the Church has had no good reason to divest itself heretofore, will then no longer apply.

    And I fully agree with you — as any knowledgeable person should — that civil marriage is very different from the sacrament of matrimony, and HAS been very different since the days of Henry VIII.

  • pnyikos

    I suspect you have been spending too much time on blogs where people at the extremes predominate and thoughtful comments are few and far between. As William Butler Yeats put it almost a century ago: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold…The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

    “Nothing was being said about the massive destruction of families…” The voices on these blogs are not (except in very small measure) the voice of the Catholic Church, which has stoutly opposed divorce for perverse and frivolous reasons, and has drawn a firm line against remarriage. The homophobic voices, attacking an orientation rather than overt acts, are not the voice of the Church either. That voice is much closer to that of Steve Gershom, the pseudonym of a gay celibate person who has done at least two articles in Catholic Exchange.

    Take a look some time, if you can find them, of past articles on Catholic Exchange on the issue of same-sex marriage. [This forum is badly in need of a good internal search engine.] You will find, alongside rather simple one-dimensional comments, plenty of thoughtful ones which go into these matters in a deeper way.

    The Church was asleep on the job when the travesty of no-fault divorce swept the country; and, alas, that institution is too firmly entrenched to be fought now. But we can still fight the good fight against same-sex marriage, and if the Church goes down fighting, it will have at least learned from its earlier mistakes.

    Finally, it is next to impossible to stop the use of donor sperm/ova and surrogacy, because these are private decisions, but we can certainly work to preserve what is left of a very public legal institution.

  • Lee

    When we use our rule of convenience we create our slippery slopes of choices. We have to live with our decisions, but our brothers and sisters do not have to take our ride down hill with us.

  • Eliz33

    Mr. Weigel,

    Your very last sentence/thought has left me intrigued/perplexed. Could you share a link to one of your articles where you have suggested this ‘rethinking’ by the Church. I would like to understand what you are proposing. Thank you.